A Lot More than a Building Collapse / Miriam Celaya

Photograph by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, taken from his blog, Lunes de Postrevolución (Post Revolution Mondays)

On the night of Tuesday January 17th, 2012, an uninhabitable but lived-in building at the corner of Infanta and Salud streets in Centro Habana collapsed, taking with it the lives of four teenagers.

If the disaster had occurred on a side street, away from the capital’s busiest traffic, it is possible that only those of us who reside in this municipality would have found out. After all, these incidents have become commonplace in the city. But it took place there, loud and undisguised, in the middle of Calzada Infanta, one of the busiest roads in the capital. For this reason, and because, thanks to Cuban twitterers, the event was public knowledge for the entire world to know, the Cuban press covered the news. They did so neither to mourn the death of the teens, nor to explain the reasons justifying that there are entire families occupying buildings on the verge of collapse in the entire realm of this battered city. No. The revolutionary press took advantage of the tragedy to highlight the importance of the involvement of the Fire Department, the National Revolutionary Police, the Emergency Medical Services and the authorities of Centro Habana and Plaza de la Revolución province and municipalities. They were, judging by the media, the true central characters. Human tragedy was dwarfed and paled in comparison to the greatness of the revolutionary institutions.

Summary of Granma‘s article of Thursday, January 19th, 2012, p. 2: “Intense and coordinated action” of “the forces of Fire and Emergency Medical Services in the rescue of victims and in the effort to save the lives of those who were trapped”, as if those were not exactly the expected roles of such organizations, or as if building collapses were an act of God, or just an architectural whim; something by chance, unexpected, unpredictable or capricious.

The most painful thing, besides the always tragic deaths of young people, is the indifference of the onlookers crowded around the rubble. Most people’s faces, beyond the superficial impact and compassion for victims and survivors, only amounted to reflect their relief: “thank God it did not happen to me”, as if this were not everyone’s tragedy. Selfishness is one of the most genuine products of this system.

At this stage of the game, we can attribute to the revolution the peculiarity of having contributed to this nation what can be summed up as just three of the main causes of death of Cubans in these last few decades, not to delve into other causes: the thousands of deaths from drowning or shark attacks in the Straits of Florida, the deaths reaped in foreign war campaigns waged in other countries, and Cubans (also in great numbers) buried by the rubble that once were their homes.

Let no one be surprised. The case of Infanta and Salud is not, even from afar, just the collapse of another building.

Translated by Norma Whiting

January 20 2012